Martin Burke – Scivias

Digital StillCameraMartin Burke was born in Limerick. Burke is a long term resident of Flanders where he is active as poet and playwright (and sometimes actor) and from where he has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Belgium -the latest work being BLAKE/LONDON/BLAKE published by the Feral Press, New York

 

Scivias

These fragments I have shored….
T. S. Eliot

1
This is the night
This is the dream
This is the dream-house
This is the shaded rose
The worm and the hawk
The apple and the apple’s core
This is the dream-house store

This is the night
This is the dream
This is the spoken and unsaid
This is the living
This is the tide
This is the voice of the dead

This is the night
This oh would-be knower
Is the threshing-floor

2

….and went down to the sea
the sails were full as we held our course, but the sun went down, darkness fell on the earth when we came to the place Circa talked of

A world other than ours
Opposite to ours but never totally so
Whole in itself and whole to itself
Not for the living, not that, nor could be
But with its own validity

So have you come as combatant or singer?
Do you mean to question your advantage
Or ask for guidance towards the living light?

I prayed sufficiently, I cut the throats of two sheep, the ghosts came trooping up
Pale Eurydice
Pale Teiresias (some say he was blind)
Others you know of (because of a poem)
Lucid yet cold in watery light

And you are either Orpheus or Odysseus
So whatever you ask will be answered
But will you understand?
why have you left the light of day and come to visit the dead? Withdraw your sword that I may drink and answer your questions
Whatever you say determines the future

The word I make makes the world I face

*

Fragments
Yes, and yet (how could it be otherwise or less?)
Containing a ripened fullness in themselves

Remembering one thing because you remember another
Recovering what was lost, fixing it in memory
Making it part of tradition, making it different, making it the same
Translating one word into another, granting it a new name
Making peace with the past, adding something to the fragments
Reconciling Christ with Sophocles

and after all these years, walking into my past – an old corridor with all the doors newly painted

The river under the earth will not be denied
I will tell
Exile already creeping into language

Remembering one thing because you remember another
Recovering what was lost
Fixing it in memory
Thus hail – the future is born!
*
What will remain?
Nothing will remain
Lustre will vanish
Lustre will regain

Out of night
Its cooing dove
Calls my heart
To eternal love

What will remain?
Nothing will remain
When love pure darkling dark
Regains

3

(And this is the land of annunciation?)

I have been here before
And sometimes meet myself returning
And almost call out
(But I do not)
And let myself pass in the opposite direction
And then regret the choice I made
And try to catch-up my receding self
Though we are going in opposite directions
And where one has been the other will go
And perhaps there will be a reconciliation
But if not I’ll take my shadow where I go
And watch that other make his way home

*

Oh intense lullaby of stars
On meek receiving earth
Am I orphan or first born
Or Absalom among my generation
And the generations
Of the winsome, calling dead?
Oh lullaby of stars
And great mothering earth
Might I be your prodigal who comes
Hopeful on the curve of a wave?

*

Credentials of the examined life
Abound
I have seen
I have told, I will tell again

Not that prophets have come among us
To any good purpose
The hard vision
Will not console but is right

Meanwhile, in this generation
Pleas of heathen and believer ascend-
See: of smoke is made a syntax
Improper and bewailing

And Orpheus banished

Singularly, and to no satisfaction but my own
I write this out
Chalk on the blackboard
Of an arrow-skewed heart

Poetry –a pledge to the infinite
Thus, with a trembling hand….

4
(from the St Matthew Passion)

Be with me daughters
The world has proved unfaithful
He slaughtered
He innocent
Wood will hold what the world cannot hold
How?
Behold!
The tree trunk twists about the twisted body

Bring water, oil, and tribute
Bring mountain’s song
Bring laud and lamentation
Joyous and woeful tears
Bring costly herbs and spices
(Let the grave open now)
Bring the shattered heart
Bring the troubled mind
Bring sinews, nerves, and tendons
Bring breakable hope
(Let the grave open now)
Bring pauper and bone-strung man
Bring child in hunger
(And mother in child’s pain)
Bring howl and hosanna
Mix the oils and anoint him
Mix laud with lamentation
Sing dirge, death-song and exhaustion

O preciousness
There is the going out
There is the returning
There is the gift
There is the reprieve
There is the strings gone haywire
There is the resetting of the strings
There is the water calmed
There is the moon put back in its round
There is the fish-swarm
There is the bee-glade
There is the bass and there is the treble
There is trumpet, lute and cymbal
There is the song
There is the waving hand

Be with me brothers in these my lamentations
To bear the light you must bear the dark
Bear the silence to bear the sound
Bear the wood to give root to the leaf
Bear the contradictions
Be with me brothers in this death-song
Be with me in my lamentations
Where water stops flowing
And the hard stone melts
And the sun is black
And the moon is red
Bear it on your shoulders and your back
Bear the burden until it becomes the lightest thing
Bear dark that it be light
Hold the moon to the eye
Hold the sun in your hand
Bear the contradictions of song
Bear the beauty
Bear the crime
Bear this song of unbalanced rhyme
Carry the wood three steps further
Then carry three more to the hill

Where has he gone
The most beautiful of the beautiful?
Our voices are anxious
Our hands outstretched and empty
Why does a snake slither near?
He is gone
Into death
Into dark
Into the cave the dark snake slithers from
What shall I ask
Who shall answer?
What will the silence say?
What will my words refuse to hold?
What will my words be unable to hold?
He is gone
And the cave awaits
Block up the door with a closing stone
Block up your heart with your portion of pain
The heart is blocked up with pain
The rock stairs
Climb it
Step by torturous step
Step wearily but step
Clouds, air, and wind hinder
But step you must
Find the rocky inclination
Follow
Step by flesh-cutting step
Call for the caretaker
(He may come he may not)
Call but do not stop
Commit to the path you’re committed to
You know the beginning but not the end
You know the climb
The slow ascent
Always the ascent
The blood-smeared ascent
Your hands bone raw and your feet blood red
The stones you grip for safety
Would throw you from the stairs

Mockery laughs
All is befouled
Honour lies in the mud
Wailing has replaced song
The pennants are upside-down
Water is bitter
Bread is sour
Wine is rancid
There is a barbarous clanging of shields
There is shadow but no sun
There is trembling
There is cowering
There is a barbarous clanging of shields
There is no light and there is no shame
Why is there no light?
Why is there no shame?
Why are those words lost in the howl of the world?

I cannot
Too much
Too much
I cannot
I fall
Unhappy earth must uphold me
Unhappy earth
Uphold

Till the last stroke of death
Your mouth nourishes me
Till the last stroke of death
I will hold fast
Till the last stroke of death
Till the last stroke of death
Till noon is noon of midnight
Till the moon is blood
Till the sun is shamed
Till water is solid as stone
Till the last stroke of death
Till the last stroke of death
Till wheat becomes the millstone
Till the chorus rips its music at the last stroke of death
Till triumph is overcome at the last stroke of death
Till death overcomes the last stroke of death
Till the last stroke of death
Till the last stroke of death
It is said the shadows began on the last stroke of death

5

Time ticks against us
Towards death
Downwards since Adam
Inherited earth (and the naming)
Gifts and exiles
Transfigurations
Narratives and illuminations
Other than love what is worth having?

*

Red dawn
Wings and the ocean
(even on the graves of death)
Like childhood racing away from us
Wings –wings of life
Even the shadows are pleasing
(I have known this before and will know it again)
The star is a hunter of our dark dreams
Wings in the red dawn
And the transformations of the red-winged butterfly
Dawn and red midnight
The March ice melting
Wings restless for the summer-lands
Wings and red midnight and ice
Red dawn with a few stars
Fragrance of buds’ first openings
Red dawn

*

Dark form you are loved
Bright woman likewise
Flame brightens flesh beyond the immodesty of gold
Error falters at the frontier of spring
The several winds come to a perfect standstill
Day is held between spring and spring water
No erasure is possible
No other path extends into the mountain
Sprigs of basil and thyme perfume the air
Perhaps violins are mute but perhaps they are not
And the rose is a motionless nude
I am speaking of things witnessed
I am speaking in the only way that is faithful to them
I am speaking of music meeting history
(Tell this to the chief of musicians and he will understand)
The gaze of creation is fixed on the gaze of the woman
On a boat leaving a harbour
On the enthusiasm of sailors
On the restlessly eager prows
This is a boat that sails a sweet river
Woman and wheat its cargo
Sun and moon tussle to be its pilot light
But ah the woman is bright the brightness of rising flame
This is the harbour in mourning
This is the lighthouse of April and autumn
This is a cauldron of oil for winter
This is the snow that falls on a rainbow
This is the pennant of Eden
This is a house built without a scaffolding
This is the brightness of that woman’s smile when all else fades
This is where music ceases
This is the ploughed field and the rites of spring
This is the root of the flower
This is the shadow cast by a flame
This is the sun’s dark form

6

These fragments
These fragments I have shored
Buttress against stress in the wall
Buttress for the rose
Hold up now the stalk of the root
Hold against the flame’s burning of wood
Hold
These fragments opposing
Shore the wall against the flame
Uphold the flowering stalk (fragment of a greater beauty)
Buttress a life against the fibrous bones
Fragments opposing fragmentation
Connect now the wall to the flower to the flame
The good wood buttressing
Uphold
Oppose the bones fibrous
Oppose
Shore the wall again
Place strong wood against it
Hold against the flame but welcome the singing fire
Uphold with fragments the broken beauty of the world
For the sake of which
These fragments
Shored

*

Rose and ocean
These are the raptures
Are hidden and united
Are one
Are cupped in sepals
Colors are splendid in the meadows of spring
And the ocean is both moving and calm –
So, out of what inexhaustible depths does this arise?
Why is there mildness in the heart at such moments?
Why do stars long for the courtship of morning?
The world is in flame and darkness scatters
Yet loving night is held for a kiss
By the ocean and the rose

*

The light exonerates what the dark claims –
Enter, and be still

The corbelled roof
Holds you to a centre that is off-centre
A point you cannot pass beyond
Between experience and expectation

You are here
And not elsewhere
Where passage begins
Where time restores
The wounds and scars of time

To lie in stone for half a million years is one desire
To be its carver is another
But what’s known beyond the clang of a hammer
But what we attribute to sound and echo
Echoing our speculations into the corbelled space
To repeat in us its music

Half a million years are nothing
But a fraction of times fiction
Where there is no time
But now in the endless perpetuation of itself

There is the here of silence and light
And the dream within the dream-house dreaming

There is no ‘we’ in the dark
The light goes out and we are alone
Not a breath of certainty issuing

When the light returns
Your breath frictions your thoughts to sparks
And there is neither here nor there
Nor then nor now
But a dream uncoiling
In the corbelled dream-house of the mind

7

One year autumn comes early, one year it comes late
A season gives itself to the world or holds itself to itself
At the harbour ships are ready to depart

….and went down to the sea as if we were troubadours or dervishes
Heading towards the unknown except for what we knew of it
By what old poems said or old songs sang

Nothing else is needed – everything is already happening
The boat is departing as you walk up the gangplank
Singing of cities the old songs say are guarded by a tree

 

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